Rich Daehn: Culinary leader

At a Glance

  • 40 campuses
  • 840 culinary employees
  • $12 million foodservice budget


Rich Daehn has enhanced the foodservice operations at Benedictine Health System by:

  • Challenging culinary directors to improve performance through the Taste of Benedictine culinary competition
  • Providing more educational opportunities for staff
  • Creating partnerships with manufacturers, brokers and distributors to work on recipe development and culinary training

Rich Daehn, corporate director of culinary services for Benedictine Health System (BHS), in Duluth, Minn., is definitely a think-outside-the-box kind of guy. How else would you describe a man who believed that long-term care foodservice directors could improve their operations by going to Disney World?

He has fostered a spirit of independence by giving his 40 culinary directors the freedom to write menus unique to their facilities. He has encouraged them to be competitive by creating a type of cook-off that can reward their units with up to $15,000 in capital funds. By partnering with vendors, he has been able to provide training to all staff to maintain the level of quality guests—Benedictine doesn’t use the terms “patients” or “residents”—have come to expect.

The result has been skyrocketing customer satisfaction scores, from 63% when he began to more than 90% today.

“My role is to lead, inspire and drive the culinary excellence initiative at Benedictine,” says Daehn, who became corporate director two years ago after serving in that role on a consulting basis for four years. “All of our buildings operate off of select menus, and we have encouraged the use of more scratch and speed-scratch cooking. We have concentrated on the dining atmosphere as well.”

Mary Mlynczak, culinary director at St. Anne of Winona, in Minnesota, says that Daehn’s leadership “has made me think about all the possibilities there can be in long-term care.”

“He is always asking us, ‘why can’t you?’ ” Mlynczak explains. “He tells us to forget about what healthcare has been and focus on what we want it to be.”

She adds that Daehn’s passion and vision can be infectious, pointing to the situation at her facility as an example.

“We started putting linens on the table, and that led to someone suggesting we go with glass plates,” Mlynczak says. “We started dressing up the tables more, with fresh flowers and the like, and the whole community got on board. Then someone suggested we needed a new floor, and so we were able to get a wood-grain floor, and just like that the whole dining area has been transformed.”

Dale Thompson, the now-retired CEO of BHS, says of Daehn: “Hospitality is just in his DNA. We have learned so much from him because he doesn’t know any other way to do things. He has such a passion for [the impact] culinary services can have on the quality of life.”

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